“There’s no way I travel this holiday season without weed,” says Maria V. of San Francisco, where legal recreational marijuana was approved this year. “My chocolate brownie treats get me through the inevitable stressful and awkward moments seeing my family in Kansas. I remain floating on a lovely little buzz through it all.”
With marijuana now legal in 29 US states and the District of Columbia, this year’s bustling festive season will see more people than ever traveling with cannabis in their possession. Some for gifts, some for medicine, some for potential sale — and more than some as sedation against those unavoidable stressful family entanglements.
With the potential uptick in people flying with cannabis, the question on many people’s minds is: Can I travel legally with pot?
While the answer varies depending upon your departure and arrival cities and states, you’ll be happy to hear that the Transportation Security Administration says its security officers “do not search for marijuana or other drugs.” Rather, TSA staff are more concerned with passenger safety, and report that “in the event a substance that appears to be marijuana is observed during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
So it’s important to know all regional cannabis laws pertaining to where you plan to travel, and curtail your herb quantities accordingly. It’s also important to keep your gear low profile and well-packed, and make sure to not pull a rookie maneuver — like entering security checkpoints with a water bottle stowed next to your ounce of Kosher Kush.
If you happen to be traveling by car with cannabis across state lines, moving, say, what amounts to a misdemeanor charge in California, you should be aware that the same quantity in one state could mean big trouble in another. Our nation is still pockmarked with more than 20 hot-zone states where, according to nonprofit cannabis reform advocate NORML, even the smallest amount of pot, or even mere marijuana paraphernalia, could get you incarcerated.
Be mindful of the local traffic laws so you don’t get pulled over like Kimberly Norton did in North Dakota, when she was caught speeding on Interstate 94 with 286 pounds of weed in the back of her vehicle. According to Fox 9, the haul had a street value worth more than $1.3 million.
The following are some helpful tips we’ve compiled to keep you safe, high and free to enjoy the holidays.
How To Keep You And Your Weed Safe While Traveling
- Know the local law. While airbound travel in the US is under federal control, terrestrial airports often default to local law. Keep your quantities in line with the limits set by local authorities. Remember that marijuana laws are still tremendously varied and fickle across much of the US. A little bit of research before your trip could save you some headaches explaining why you’re transporting what amounts to intent to deal in some jurisdictions.
- Avoid packing pot in checked luggage. Bags that go through checked baggage may give travelers a sense of victory, having bypassed security. However, once bags are headed for the plane’s cargo hold, they get scrutinized as much as ones that go through the X-ray machines at the gate. On retrieving their checked luggage, a few experienced travelers have reported seeing tags appearing in their bags that read “Notice of baggage inspection,” meaning your property was physically inspected by TSA staff.
- Pack gear in your carry-on. You have more control while carrying your gear through gate security. If your cannabis is discovered, you can show authorities your medical card or talk your way out of it by knowing local laws (see below). Also, be discreet about how you pack your cannabis in your carry-on. For instance, avoid stuffing it into a peanut butter jar (that looks really suspicious on X-ray) and don’t store herb near electronics or liquids. Those items are subject to further inspection and it’s likely you’ll need to remove them from your bag anyway.
- Pack lite and no lighters. Leave your lighter and sharp, pointy objects behind. Don’t travel with assorted paraphernalia like pokers, scrapers, dab tools, bongs or fire of any sort, which can easily pop up on X-ray and lead to further, more thorough searching of your bag.
- Conceal that skunk. Forget about using Ziploc bags for your stash. Common bags are generally not at all effective at concealing potent odors. Purchase a good, airtight, odor-concealing bag or container. There are plenty on the market these days, and some have the added bonus of being UV-resistant and crushproof to protect against degradation of your herb.
- The do’s and don’ts of edibles. Be careful when traveling with your infused products. For instance, don’t travel with infused beverages. Drinkable edibles might feel like a low-profile traveling choice, but remember that TSA staff are specifically looking for anything that contains liquid. Prepackaged edible products like chocolates or gummies are a good choice, as they also typically come in odor-proof bags. But make sure you sample the edible before you’re locked on a plane for five hours with a kicking toddler behind you.
- Keep it on the down-low. Never flaunt, display or smoke your weed in public, particularly anywhere near the airport.
- Leave behind the fat stacks. Don’t travel with large sums of cash and cannabis. In the eyes of law enforcement: weed + stacks of cash = dealer.
- Traveling internationally? Beware. Realize that you take a huge risk traveling with marijuana internationally. Customs agents are forever on the lookout for drug smugglers, and they can be brutally harsh. While they are mostly watching for people moving kilos of hard drugs, realize that your meager single ounce of weed could be construed in some countries as a major drug offense and land you in jail. Plenty of officials in foreign countries have been known to make examples of scofflaw Westerners casually toting personal amounts of pot across borders.
- Carry your MJ card. If you have a medical marijuana card, keep it handy in your purse or wallet to prove that you’re on the up and up.
- Know your rights. Again, if you’ve done even the most basic research on your destination (assuming you already know the laws of your departure city), you can speak intelligently about your rights in your arrival city.
Cannabis Cautionary Tales — Quirky Rules And Regs To Be Aware Of
- Fly the friendly skies? They’re not that friendly. Now that a large swath of western USA is experiencing legal cannabis, it’s led many people to feel a false sense of security when traveling state to state with weed. Indeed, one advertising campaign at Ontario International Airport in California (a legal state) underscored that misperception. Organa Brands, who recently leased the ad space on airport X-ray trays and emblazoned across the containers “CANNABIS IS LEGAL,” wants to spread the word. A closer look at the advertisement reveals fine print near the bottom that warns: “Traveling with it is not. Leave it in California.”
- Pass-through states are still off limits. With the current legal status of states like fully recreational Washington and medical Montana, the state of Idaho might be considered by some a tempting little sliver of land to pass through unnoticed — but don’t do it. Even possession of marijuana paraphernalia in Idaho is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine up to $1,000. An traveling into the Gem State with one pound or more of weed is considered trafficking in marijuana, a felony punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine up to $50,000. This can’t be overstated — there are still more than 20 US states where personal-use amounts can get you tossed in the pokey.
- Water transit could get you sunk. These guys learned the hard way that traveling by sea isn’t immune to search — all the same traffic warnings still apply.
- Don’t accidentally become an international drug smuggler. The majority of nations across the globe do not take kindly to illegal drugs passing across their borders. Japan, for instance, is one country where it’s best to not bring along any weed. Even the smallest quantity, such as a joint, could get you arrested and doing jail time. Dubai has some of the most extreme anti-drug laws. The smallest quantity of cannabis can mean a mandatory minimum sentence of four years.